Guaranteed Happiness and Success

Guaranteed Happiness and Success

clifton-middle-school-graduationToday I had the honor of speaking at Clifton Middle School’s 2015 8th grade graduation.  What an incredible group of young leaders, proud parents, and dedicated faculty.  The energy of young ambitious students is contagious and I find myself re-energized to conquer my own challenges.

Delivering a commencement speech is daunting.  The responsibility of providing a message to someone going into high school is mind boggling.  What will be valuable?  What will bore them to death?  I decided to “phone a friend(s)” in the process.  I sent emails out to anyone I knew that I felt was successful and happy.  I asked one question, “If you could go back in time and tell your 8th grade self one thing.  What would it be?”  From CEOs to city leaders, I received over 50 responses with varying thoughts.  This made me even more overwhelmed and abandoned the chase for the answer here.  Late last week, I began to re-read the responses for inspiration and found the pattern.  All of the responses could be boiled down to three major themes with a fourth and fifth on the fringe.  I will share them here as I shared with Clifton Middle School’s graduating class. Thanks to everyone that took the time to answer my silly question, many of you will see your responses below.

I began the speech by offering a 100% guarantee of happiness and success if three things were done.  The graduates agreed this was a fair deal, and we proceeded.

Find your passion and be yourself
When I was in high school, computers were just becoming available for personal use.  They were considered incredibly nerdy and totally uncool.  I am fortunate to have ignored the haters as I captained the computer programming team and played in chess tournaments.  Much of my network had a similar message, that to find happiness and success you need to do something you love.  High school is the time to be relentless in discovering who you are and what you like to do, many times, college is too late.  My father, a great business leader and mentor, was adamant about finding your passion: “Don’t spend 50 years doing something you hate, it’s insane.”  Being true to yourself through honesty and integrity is the most important so the people around you can count on you.  One of my favorite messages from CEO Don Porr, “Your unavoidable legacy is how you carry yourself everyday, how you treat and help others, and if people around you know they can count on you, all of the rest of it (money, wealth, power) is just for show.”

Embrace change, failure and adversity
You just never know when your break-through opportunity will arise.  Losing my job in New Orleans when Katrina hit in 2005 was incredibly devastating. My whole family was displaced there was a lot to overcome.  There is a simple process when you get knocked down.  Get up, dust yourself off, plant your feet, square your shoulders and face the next challenge head on. Failure is our way to learn; don’t be afraid to fail.  Multi-business CEO and investor Jeff Voelkel said it best, “stay positive, happy people live longer.”

Work hard and believe in yourself
I can’t tell you how many times people have asked me, “what is the key to success?”  I find that too many people are looking for shortcuts to success and a magic bullet to solve their problems.  The key is hard work.  Obviously, working hard is a lot easier if it is on something you are passionate about, and you embrace change and adversity.  In high school, I was a solid C student in English and writing.  When I entered college I decided that I would tell myself that I was a “great” writer.  Sure enough, with hard work I made all As in every writing and literature class I took.  You have the power to be your worst critic or biggest supporter.  CEO Lauren Thompson Miller wrote, “unlike hair, make-up, and fashion trends, confidence never goes out of style.”

So there you have it: The key to happiness and success is be yourself, find your passion, embrace failure, work hard and stay confident. I stand by my guarantee and invite those graduating 8th graders to contact me in 20 years for a refund if happiness and success is not achieved.  I am confident if these three things are done to the fullest, they will find happiness and success.

Thanks again to Clifton Middle School for having me and congratulations to the 2015 graduating class on a huge accomplishment. GO COUGARS!

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